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General · 15th August 2011
Jim Abram
Mr. Gordon Macatee
B.C. Ferry Commissioner
Presentation by
Jim Abram
Vice Chair of the Board
and Director, Discovery Islands – Mainland Inlets
Strathcona Regional District
August 8, 2011

Background

Ever since its establishment, the B.C. Ferries system has operated as an effective and reliable transportation system for the island communities of this province, including Vancouver Island. It was wisely established as part of the highway system and operated as such until 2003. At that time a new entity was established that has caused nothing but grief for island communities, the families that live there and the businesses that previously thrived. The experiment has proven to be a failure on the minor routes, causing hardship to families, loss of jobs and devaluation of property values, hence reduced revenue to the Provincial coffers.

Observations
Since the first time I met with Minster Lekstrom on April 21, 2011, and again on July 19, 2011, I must inform you, as Commissioner, to the actions that have taken place on Quadra and Cortes Islands due to the fares and the structure of B.C. Ferries. I mentioned to the Minister then in anecdotal terms how this ferry entity is effecting our families and our businesses and how it is negatively impacting job creation on the islands. I also provided him with a stack of letters written by residents that were directly effected. He also received a barrage of emails from residents telling him the same message. I would ask that you request of the Minister, copies of all of the correspondence that he received, for you to consider as part of this submission.

I have since had some graphic, real-life examples presented to me of the effect these hardships are having on our island families and our economy. We have recently lost another dozen young families, with children, to Vancouver Island. They cannot afford the ferry fares. We have also lost at least four businesses that employ numerous people both part and full time year-round. All of these people have stated that they are moving to Vancouver Island because they cannot afford the ferry fares. So, in the three months since I first met with the Minister, we are losing dozens of young people and children and dozens of jobs. This is all avoidable.

Solution
To come right to the point, you have the ability to change this situation. It is within your mandate, since you are conducting a review of the Coastal Ferry Act, to tell the Minster that the Act is not working and that it is having a devastating impact on families, jobs, communities and the Province. I was pleased when I heard of your appointment and even more pleased, after meeting with the Minister in April, to hear that he was changing the legislation so as to broaden your powers and allow you to review the Act. You have the opportunity to recommend the solution, once and for all.

The solution to this unending, unlivable situation, is to recommend that the ferry system needs to be taken back into the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to accurately reflect what it really is: it is our coastal highway, no different than any other highway in this province. The ferries provide the opportunity for settlement of the islands which has brought economic prosperity to the province for many years in the way of job creation and revenues derived from property taxation which is then used for highways maintenance and capital costs, schools, hospitals, libraries, policing and local services. This is an undisputable fact. Islanders pay a portion of all highways costs throughout the province and they also are asked to pay for the disproportionate cost of maintaining the marine highway, all mostly on their own. This inequity can be easily resolved by declaring the ferry system for what it is: the marine highway as an extension of the rest of the highways in the province. Take it back into the ministry and treat it no differently. This may seem simplistic, but it is the right thing to do.

Comments
I applaud the action taken by Premier Clark in putting families first in all decision making. This situation affects families: new families, young families, aging families. No one can afford to pay the exorbitant cost of ferry travel as it has evolved since 2003. We are losing our young families to other less expensive places to live. These are our workforce and our future. Our aging demographic cannot afford to have our youth leave the island due to ferry costs. Our school population has gone from 300-plus in the 1990’s to under 90 at present. Young families cannot afford to take their kids to swimming lessons, skating, hockey, gymnastics, a movie, or a meal out due to the extra-added cost of the ferry on top of the other costs. My daughter takes her four year old daughter and her baby daughter to Campbell River weekly to attend gymnastics and it costs her over 26 dollars for each trip (and that is the 40% discount rate on the Experience Card) on top of the cost of the classes. She is trying to run a home business, while her husband works at the local grocery store and they are barely making ends meet. They are seriously considering moving due to the cost of ferry fares alone. This is a personal story and I have mentioned a file of letters from others with similar stories from both Quadra and Cortes Islands that I presented to the Minister in April. These are real people being negatively impacted by a system that should never have been removed from the highway system. This present system has a serious effect on all families on the islands.

As far as business is concerned and the effect on job creation, our biggest employer on the island, Walcan Seafoods, is looking into barging their fleet of 52 foot semi-trucks directly from their plant to Campbell River. They ship at least five or more trucks a day to the big island with fresh farmed fish from the surrounding fish farms. This will be a substantial loss to the ferry system in revenue and it is being caused by ever rising ferry fees. Numerous truck drivers will be negatively impacted by this move. Product from the islands in the way of farmed shellfish, fresh fish and other commodities are being shipped daily and yet the producers are not able to increase their rates at the same pace as BCFS. Most restaurants serve shellfish products from our islands. I am sure that you have seen them on menus throughout the cities and across the country. Yet these producers are being driven out of business by ferry fares. These are good local jobs that are being impacted. First nations and non-First Nations workers are being negatively impacted by these fares. Every item that is shipped to our islands goes up in price every time we are faced with another rise in rates. This is causing businesses to close. They cannot afford the overhead of living on an island and hence people are being laid off.

Our tourism industry was thriving for years with a constant rate of growth due to a lot of hard work put in by the tourism operators and the Chamber of Commerce. This is no longer true. All of the businesses are reporting reduced bookings over the past several years and it has been stated over and over to them by their clients that it is just too expensive to get here, due to the ferry fares. Consider an RV coming from the mainland, to Vancouver Island, then to Quadra Island and then to Cortes Island. The fee is outrageous and can be demonstrated. The new structure put in place has put a huge burden on anyone towing anything behind their vehicle and BCFS will be the first to admit it. The amount of a small trailer (12’) is far more than the towing vehicle (20’)! This kind of treatment of islanders is causing us to lose business, lose jobs and hence lose families.

Conclusion
As I stated earlier, the solution is simple. The ferry service must be treated as any other highway in BC. It must be taken back into the Ministry of Transportation where it belongs if we are to maintain vibrant, diverse and productive communities with a place for families of all ages and compositions and where job creation is only limited by the creativity of the people who populate the islands.

On a very personal note, I realize that a recommendation of this nature would be a very bold move by any Commissioner, but it is the right move and will be welcomed and applauded by every islander and every visitor to the islands. It was my hope that when the new Premier won the leadership that we would see some sweeping new changes. She has started that by putting families first along with job creation. This is one change that you can help her implement and it will become the legacy of the new Premier, the Minister and you also as the Commissioner.

There is no need for a Coastal Ferry Act, a Board of Directors, an Executive staff nor, with all due respect, a Commissioner, if B.C. Ferries were just treated as any other highway in B.C. and run out of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure where it belongs.

I thank you for your time and am willing to provide you with any further assistance as necessary.

News release August 8, 2011
Comment by Powell River Regional District on 15th August 2011
GROUP OF EIGHT COASTAL REGIONAL DISTRICTS MEET WITH BC FERRY COMMISSIONER AS PART OF ONGOING EFFORTS TO SUPPORT A COMPLETE REVIEW OF THE COASTAL FERRY ACT
Victoria, British Columbia, August 8, 2011 – The Chairs of eight coastal Regional Districts met today in Victoria with Gordon Macatee, BC Ferries Commissioner, to discuss options for improvements to the coastal ferry service in BC.

“We felt that our concerns were acknowledged and we applaud the upcoming Town Halls that the Commissioner is planning for coastal communities in order to hear from residents,” said Colin Palmer, Chair of the Powell River Regional District and leader of the Coastal Regional District Chairs group. “ However, the Coastal RD Chairs are asking for such fundamental improvements of the Coastal Ferry Act that we will continue looking at policy options and recommendations and will present these to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and the Premier.”

Working together, the Coastal RD Chairs group is drafting a position paper that will outline a series of policy options and recommendations that would help to improve coastal ferry service and address the current lack of oversight for this service. The paper will be reviewed in draft form at the Coastal RD Chairs’ meeting in early September, and will be presented in final version at the annual Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver the week of September 26th.

“This is an issue where we as Chairs can have a positive impact on how this service is delivered to all British Columbians,” said Geoff Young, Chair of the Capital Regional District. “By looking at the impact of increasing ferry fares, the uncertainty of how this service will be overseen long-term, and some of the outdated elements in the Coastal Ferry Act, we can offer up new and more relevant guidelines, tools and policies. Our main goal is to improve the service, working together with the Province, the Commissioner and the public.”

Participating coastal Regional District Chairs include the following:
Jim Abram, Vice –Chair, Strathcona Regional District
Edwin Grieve, Chair, Comox Valley Regional District
Christine Hyde, Chair, Central Coast Regional District
Lois Jackson, Chair, Metro Vancouver
Sheila Malcolmson, Chair, Islands Trust
Gary Nohr, Chair, Sunshine Coast Regional District
Colin Palmer, Chair, Powell River Regional District
Joe Stanhope, Chair, Regional District of Nanaimo
Glen Wong, Chair, Alberni-Clayquot Regional District
Geoff Young, Chair, Capital Regional District